Science - November 17, 2005

‘When I sing, I unwind’

‘I’ve always been into music,’ tells Anja Schwenzfeier (23) from Germany, one of the international students in the Wageningen student choir and orchestra, WSKOV. She joined the choir last September, together with her friend and fellow student Agathe Leray (22) from France.

‘At home I sing in a choir too,’ tells Anja. Agathe doesn’t: ‘The first choir I joined was in America when I was there after my high school.’ Now, they both enjoy singing with the student choir in Wageningen. Practice starts in an hour. Every Thursday evening the group of forty students, mostly Dutch, sings in the entrance hall of the Aula. ‘The acoustics could be better,’ says Anja. But that doesn’t diminish their enthusiasm: they joined the choir for the singing itself. ‘When I sing, I unwind. I concentrate on the piece and focus all my energy,’ explains Agathe. ‘The singing, the breathing, it is a way of controlling your body. You forget about problems, and sing all your stress away.’ Singing in a choir is more challenging than singing alone. Anja: ‘It is powerful. In Berlin, where the group was much bigger, I sometimes stepped outside to listen, because when you are inside you are concentrating on singing and you hear it differently.’

Anja and Agathe had to take an audition before joining WSKOV. They had to sing three chords to show their voice range. Anja thinks almost anyone can pass. ‘You have to a bit of self-confidence. Most people think they can’t sing, but they actually do have a good voice.’ Maybe it’s more important to have some kind of connection to music. ‘I’m always listening to music,’ Anja tells. ‘When I was six, I played the recorder. When I was fourteen I started singing.’ For Agathe the choir is also a way of meeting other people. ‘I am doing a European Master’s. This means I will spend a few months in several different countries. I think it is important to go and meet people and to have an activity besides school and sports. It makes you feel more at home.’

Meanwhile, other choir students start to come into the Aula. It is time for the rehearsal. Soon there are forty students standing in the entrance hall, singing with great concentration while keeping an eye on the choirmaster. The choir is rehearsing hard for the big Christmas concert in December. For Anja and Agathe, it will be their first performance in front of a big audience. The choir will sing a wide variety of numbers, some of them accompanied by the orchestra. ‘It’s all fairly modern,’ says Anja. From classical and jazz to a fairytale called the Reluctant Dragon. ‘We even get to dress up for that one,’ says Anja excitedly. Agathe is not nervous yet, but adds, ‘I think I will be.’ / LH